To see or not to see? That is the question. It all began a couple of months ago. Two of our children, who are in grade 7, were reading this book called The Hunger Games in school. They were both excited about it and there was even talk of a field trip to see the movie when it came out. I knew nothing about the book, but the little bits that the kids told me were enough to concern me. I decided I should read it myself so I could intelligently discuss it with them. I was not overly excited about this endeavor, as the concept just didn’t appeal to me, but I thought it would be the responsible, parental thing to do. And then I found out it was a trilogy. Oy.
I read the first book and I have to admit that it was gripping. However, I also found it tense, dark and depressing. I have enough tension and darkness in my life, thank you very much, so I fail to see how this is meant to be entertainment. I read the second book, mostly out of creative curiosity to see how the author could get another whole novel out of the same concept. I shouldn’t have bothered. Spoiler alert: it’s the same story, but with a few rule changes to get the same characters back into the games. I have started the third book, but at this point, I am so bored with the whole concept, I don’t know if I can force myself to finish it.
Those are my thoughts on the books themselves. Next issue: 12-year-olds reading them in school.
I suppose this is not a new debate. I’m sure my generation’s parents had the same discussion when we had to read Lord of the Flies. Maybe I should lighten up. Clearly I wasn’t traumatized for life by it. Then again, I don’t really recall if I ever actually read the whole thing. Still, I am begrudgingly willing to admit that there may be some value in reading something somewhat controversial if it gets kids talking about morals and debating situational ethics.
One Hunger Games movie review I read (from The Reel Breakdown) mentioned the point of view of a middle school teacher: “Her seventh-graders were reading the novel in the school-sponsored book club — and no one was traumatized. What they were doing was discussing the difficult choices Katniss confronts to preserve her family, her friends, and her own skin. And they were reading with interest and relating it to their own lives, which is in itself a very good thing.”
That is a good thing. In fact, my son got his first A+ ever in his life on a paper he wrote comparing The Hunger Games to the child soldier crises in Africa! Maybe these are healthy things to discuss and think about and debate. But I think seeing the movie is a whole different ballgame. Reading the book (or even having the book read aloud to you – but that is a tangential issue that I’m trying to let go of for now) encourages the use of imagination. The reader must take the descriptions of the settings, costumes, and actions from the book and form their own visual images in their mind. This engages the brain and fosters creativity. But those imagined pictures – violent though they may be – do not leave the same lasting imprint on the mind that a tangible, visual, life-like movie image does. Reading about kids killing kids and picturing it in your mind is horrific enough. Seeing it played out by real people in graphic detail on a gigantic screen with blaring sound – that kind of thing sticks in your head for a very, very, very long time. I’m having trouble justifying exposing my kids to that for the sake of a classroom discussion on the similarities and differences between the book and the movie.
They’ve watched other violent movies. I know that. I frequent http://www.kids-in-mind.com/ and thoroughly read the reviews and ratings to see what I think my kids can handle. The Hunger Games has a violence rating of 7 out of 10. So do the Lord of the Rings movies, and Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. And John Carter, which my son saw last week for his birthday party, has a violence rating of 6. My kids have watched these movies with my permission. But somehow violence involving mythical creatures, aliens and monsters doesn’t concern me as much. That’s much easier to dismiss as fictional. But this, The Hunger Games, is about human teenagers murdering other human teenagers in brutal and varied ways. That doesn’t sit well with this mama!
But the whole class is going! But it’s only rated PG-13!
So this mama has been reading reviews. By and large, the feedback is hugely positive for two reasons: 1. Jennifer Lawrence, who plays the lead character, is brilliant in the role. Whoop-de-do. That has no bearing on whether or not my kids can handle the violence. And 2. It is said to be atypical of the usual Hollywood fare in that the movie adheres very closely to the book. That, for my purposes, is a strike against it. If the reviews were all saying that the movie had completely toned-down the violence and didn’t really show any of the killings, that would be a huge relief for me. So the fact that the fast camera work keeps things moving and doesn’t dwell for long on the individual scary parts doesn’t really seem to be much of a concession.
As Variety puts it, “Any real sense of risk has been carefully ironed out: The PG-13 rating that ensures the film’s suitability for its target audience also blunts the impact of the teen-on-teen bloodshed, most of it rendered in quick, oblique glimpses; whether this is the morally responsible decision is open to debate.” Also of interest is the Vulture review: “The audience at Monday’s packed preview of The Hunger Games came out juiced and happy, ready to spread the good word, while all I could think was, They’ve just seen a movie in which twenty-plus kids are murdered. Why aren’t they devastated? If the filmmakers had done their job with any courage, the audience would have been both juiced and devastated.”
And so, the decision must be made. I’m willing to be the mean parent. Heaven knows that’s nothing new. But is it best to completely forbid the movie or to allow for some compromise? Should I disallow them to go with their class but agree to rent it and watch it together (on a smaller screen and where we have control of the remote)? If I completely forbid it, I know I’m risking their rebellion by watching it at a friend’s house later, in which case we won’t even have the opportunity to discuss it afterwards. Yes, I know this shouldn’t even be part of my consideration, but I also know that it’s a very real (almost definite) possibility for one of our children. Or if I just let them see it, does that set a precedent for the next 2 movies (which are likely to be even worse)?
I don’t know! I just don’t know! I suppose I need to see the movie myself to make a completely informed decision. But the selfish part of me doesn’t want to waste one of our semi-annual date nights on that. So here is my plea: if you have seen the movie already, give it to me straight. Is PG-13 a fair rating? Is the violence blatant and gory or is it somewhat masked and implied? Please, discuss.